7/7-7/8: Unnamed Creek to New Tripoli Spring to Lehigh Gap

  • 7/7: Miles 1235.5-1248.3 (12.8 mi.)
  • Total ascent: 2175′; descent: 1319′
  • 7/8: Miles 1248.3-1259.5 (11.2 mi.)
  • Total ascent: 3558′; descent: 2107′

Today, Thursday, was a day of quiet luck.

It poured most of the day; and yet didn’t while we broke camp, during a treacherous rock scramble, or while we set up again in the evening. We walked a nine-mile stretch with no water, except for what was falling from the sky, and then stumbled on an unmarked spring by our camp.

The same could be said about our food supply: A man who walked by our site just an hour ago gave us each a banana and an orange. Had he not, we’d be walking the remaining mile to Palmerton, Pennsylvania, tomorrow morning on a single granola bar.

We don’t plan to stay the night in Palmerton, where our lodging options are limited to a private resident’s yard (which, she told us, was already booked); a nudist hostel that charges $60 per head (double yuck); and a steakhouse’s unventilated garage (what?) with the only hiker-available washing machine machine in town.

Complicating our plans is another of Pennsylvania’s famous rock scrambles, this one patently unsafe in the rain. We can shop at the Family Dollar until the rocks dry, but we need enough time left in our day to go 15 miles — further than either of the past two days — to what’s considered the first “clean” water source north of town.

Located in between is a zinc mine shuttered in the ’80s that is now an EPA Superfund site. The slag piled on hillsides beside the town is so toxic that it killed all vegetation, causing mud- and rockslides until the federal government paid to cage the hillsides.

Although the recent terrain has been tough, I’m told the 36 miles ahead (all the way to Delaware Water Gap, our last stop in Pennsylvania) are to blame for this state’s trail nicknames: “Rocksylvania” and, my preference, “Painsylvania.” It’s as if Mother Nature couldn’t decide between boulders you have to pull yourself up, or spiny points sticking up from the ground, so she decided to get the sampler. Then she decided she needed a drink of rain to sip while watching hikers struggle.

One respite from the rocks was an interaction I had today. A scrawny man hiking southbound who’s blind in one eye, who we ate lunch with, taught me to identify wild burdock, an edible, leafy plant whose root is used as a liver tonic; and chickweed, an herbal groundcover said to relieve inflammation. I added burdock to tonight’s dinner of couscous, lemon pepper tuna, and dried carrots; it turned out a tad bitter, but it was no doubt nutritious.

Botching recipes, identifying new plants, allowing ourselves to sleep in because the rain has to stop eventually: These joys are easy to overlook, but also surprisingly easy to indulge.

In the words of Not So Bad: It’s not so bad, unless you let it be.

By Bob

Bob is a newly married word herder who's gone looking for himself where anyone who knows him would: in the mountains and around the campfires of America's greatest trail.